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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 October 2002

1 October: Eugenides and Franzen at the 92nd St. Y
2 October: More Wittgenstein v. Popper | Brattleboro Literary Festival
3 October: New Yorker Festival reports | TLS Figes review
4 October: More about the TLS review of Figes | More TLS | B.R.Myers interview
5 October: The new Proust | Political publishing | We go Middlesex | Literary interest (lack of) | Salon death knell ?
7 October: Max Barry's forthcoming ... book | Ann Marlowe update | Festivals: Cheltenham | Birmingham | National Book Festival | Praise (!) for The NYTBR
8 October:
Franzen on How to Be Alone | A&LD done for, but ...
9 October: David Jones | Buchmesse Frankfurt | Zadie Smith and / or (?) Dave Eggers
10 October: Nobel Prize | Second acts at the VLS | Juan Goytisolo | García Márquez memoir

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10 October 2002 - Thursday

Nobel Prize | Second acts at the VLS | Juan Goytisolo | García Márquez memoir

       The Nobel Prize for Literature, 2002

       And the Nobel Prize for literature, 2002, goes to ... Hungarian author Imre Kertész.
       Imre who ? Yes, he wasn't on the top of our list of favourites either (but then the winner usually isn't). Read the official press release for their explanation of the choice.
       Sorry: no Kertész titles under review at the complete review, either (not yet, and not for a while).
       Check out his bio-bibliography to see what he's written -- and note how extensively he's been translated into other languages (German, French, Swedish, for example) and how feebly he's been translated into English -- two books, published by the very lucky Northwestern University Press (good for them: they have a good list). Note also that abroad he is published by "real" publishers, while in the US (and UK) he is relegated to university-press status. Shame, shame, shame -- but it's hard to expect anything more in the provincialism that is American (and, evermore, English) publishing -- they'll try some interesting stuff if it's originally written in English, but foreign literature ... no thanks.
       To purchase Kertész's books in English:
(Posted by: complete review)

       Second acts at the VLS

       The new Voice Literary Supplement came out yesterday -- the "Fall" issue, the one-time sometime monthly looking to have permanently been scaled back to quarterly status (hey, it's just literature, who needs more coverage anyway, right ?). Still, however infrequently it might appear, it generally includes some worthwhile book-coverage. So, for example, in this issue, Ed Park's review of William Gaddis' posthumous Agape Agape and W.G.Sebald's posthumously translated After Nature. (The Gaddis-discussion also takes on Jonathan Franzen's recent article in The New Yorker (see our earlier comments) -- calling it "a self-aggrandizing New Yorker smackdown".)
       Of particular interest also: Performance Anxiety by Joy Press, discussing how "literary stars fight the second-novel syndrome". This nicely complements our brief discussions yesterday (see below) about Zadie Smith and Dave Eggers. Ms. Press also goes worrisomely overboard on occasion, puffing up what shouldn't be puffed: Jeffrey Eugenides and Donna Tartt are, apparently, "literary superstars", for example. We'd like to repeat: one book does not a superstar (or even a writer) make ! But with puffery like this, no wonder these poor people feel a bit of pressure when it comes to their follow-ups.
       Also discussed: Zadie Smith, Junot Díaz, -- and Allen Kurzweil. Kurzweil solved the problem of the long-delayed, much-anticipated follow-up by ... pretty much doing exactly what he had done before (see our review of The Grand Complication), showing absolutely no growth as a writer. Trying to buy more time for his career after the disappointment of his own follow-up he now also argues for looking to "'late bloomers' (...) examples of literary careers allowed to unfurl at a more leisurely pace" (which we're all for ... though writers like him, Eugenides, and the Tartt, all publishing second books around a decade (!) after their first, well, that might try some readers' patience over the long haul).
       Kurzweil also doesn't strengthen his argument when he suggests:
It's nice to have a success along the lines of Franzen's The Corrections, it provides a chronology that accommodates writing in obscurity for three or four or five books.
       Excuse us ? Franzen writing in obscurity ? Sorry, Allen: Franzen's debut was one of the (critical) hits of the time -- sixty reviews, Franzen famously complained, and a hell of a lot of press coverage. It was only with the second novel -- a dud, popularity wise (though we like it much better than his first) -- that Franzen fell into obscurity. And note also: The Corrections was just Franzen's third book, so he certainly didn't toil "in obscurity for three or four or five books".
       One thing is noteworthy: why do all these follow-ups take so long ? We'd love to follow unfurling careers, but what happened to authors who are actually able to churn out a book every say two years (as none of these youngsters -- Zadie Smith excepted -- seem to be) ? We understand the reading tour cuts into their writing time (a bizarre skewing of priorities -- does Jonathan Franzen really need to continue to promote The Corrections ?), but how about them getting back to the writing-desk and getting to work ? We understand the need to labour over great tomes, but would argue that -- especially early in writer's career -- there's a lot to be said for getting a hang of the craft, of trying things out, and actually learning to become a writer -- by writing and publishing at some reasonable pace (and sorry: a book a decade is, with very few exceptions, not reasonable).

(Posted by: complete review)

       Juan Goytisolo

       Also to be found in this week's VLS: an interview with Juan Goytisolo (always a favourite hereabouts; see our author page). The occasion ? The publication of the English translation of his novel State of Siege (only .... seven years after it's original publication). We hope to review it soon. Meanwhile, check out the City Lights publicity page, or buy a copy at
       Meanwhile, in England Goytisolo is off promoting his other newly translated book, A Cock-eyed Comedy -- get a copy at .....

(Posted by: complete review)

       Gabriel García Márquez memoir

       Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez's long-awaited memoir, Vivir Para Contarla, is now available, at least in his native Colombia. A million copies were printed, according to this BBC report.
       The New York Times ran a big story on it yesterday, noting that the book:
is being released in Colombia on Wednesday and across much of Latin America and Spain on Thursday. It may appear in German, Dutch and Italian by the end of this year, and in the United States as early as the end of next year.
       O.k., "may" -- but still: "as early as the end of next year" ? Why is it thought (and, indeed, oh so believable) the Germans and Dutch and Italians will manage to get this thing translated and published a whole year ahead of the Americans ? Are American publishing schedules so much more complicated ? Will the American translator take so much more care that s/he needs so much longer to render the work into English ? Have they maybe not yet found a translator (or bought the English-language rights) ?

(Posted by: complete review)

9 October 2002 - Wednesday

David Jones | Buchmesse Frankfurt
Zadie Smith and / or (?) Dave Eggers

       Someone remembers David Jones

       Michael Symmons Roberts writes about Poetry's invisible genius in the Sunday Telegraph (29 September). Who is it this time (poetry having many invisible geniuses, after all) ?
       David Jones.
       We're fans: among the first reviews at the complete review was one of The Anathemata, and we have also covered In Parenthesis. He is a poet who does, indeed, deserve more attention.
       If you don't believe us, check out W.H.Auden's review of The Anathemata (from the first-ever (!) issue of The New York Review of Books).

(Posted by: complete review)

       Frankfurt Book Fair

       Yes, it's time for the Frankfurt Book Fair again, the mother of all book fairs. From 9 to 14 October you can mingle with all the industry bigwigs (and small fry). For more information, see their official site
       The buzz and excitement seem less than usual, but no doubt there will be a few entertaining accounts of the goings-on in the week to come -- we'll be on the lookout for you.
       The featured country this year is ... Lithuania. We don't really know what to say about that -- and we apologize for not having any Lithuanian literature under review for you. See the official Lithuanian site for the fair for more information.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Another Zadie Smith review

       The Autograph Man continues to get the heavy-duty review treatment -- everybody who is anybody is covering it. (We, of course, are nobody, which is why we haven't even gotten around to reviewing White Teeth, but previous entries at the Literary Saloon providing links to reviews of The Autograph Man can be found here and here.)
       This week's big review: Ruth Franklin's in The New Republic (issue of 14 October). She opens her review wondering: "Is Zadie Smith a pseudonym for Dave Eggers ?" The two buddies -- last seen performing together at The New Yorker Festival (see this report from The New York Observer) -- in fact a single author ? Perhaps not as far-fetched as it seems ... or at least a fun idea.
       Franklin entertainingly complains:
In the two years since White Teeth, however, Smith has become progressively McSweenified. (...) But the pranks now culminate in The Autograph Man, a full-blown McSweeney's, production in all but name. Gone almost completely are the imagination and the humanity of White Teeth; they have been replaced by gimmickry.
       Read the article and decide for yourself .....

       What we find so fascinating is that so many reviewers who discuss The Autograph Man are so completely convinced of Zadie Smith's great talent. As we understand it, she had only written one novel before this one. That novel may, indeed, be a brilliant piece of work but we don't understand why it must necessarily follow that she is in fact a particularly good writer. Surely somebody must consider the possibility that White Teeth was a one-off, a stroke of genius where she got everything right but which she doesn't possess the ability to equal (or possibly even approach). One-off authors litter the literary landscape, and while it is understandable that reviewers (and audiences) may hope Smith is the real deal, a true writer with many books in her, ... well, the proof is in the books. Surely, if Franklin (for example) doesn't find this follow-up to be up to snuff she might want to reconsider whether in fact Smith has the "rich and brutal imagination" she ascribes to her (maybe, after all, it was all spent on Smith's first work).
       The same, incidentally goes for Ms. Smith's ... other self (?), David Eggers, who burst on the scene with some heartbreaking or staggering work (we're not familiar with it, but we understand it sold very well -- and got some very good notices), and who now has brought out a novel .....

(Posted by: complete review)

       Dave Eggers publishes a novel

       Whether or not Zadie Smith is actually Dave Eggers (or vice versa) -- see above -- he is certainly a character. He puts out a great-looking magazine, and he has some fun shaking up the publishing world (more power to him !) -- including allowing his new book to be sold only by select independent retailers or directly from his website (get your copy here). He has apparently also achieved considerable renown as a writer, but since it is our policy not to read any books with "heartbreaking" or "staggering" in the title (life is too short) we had to give his a pass. But people seem to really like it.
       Eggers, too, has followed up that first great success -- with a novel (his first book can apparently be categorized as a memoir or pseudo-memoir). You shall know our velocity he calls it.
       The Kakutani reviewed it in The New York Times yesterday. She found that it: "feels like a crafts-fair project (...) a messy, unconvincing assemblage."
       And: "the storyline feels synthetic and secondhand".
       And: "he simply seems to be treading water in this novel".
       And it is ultimately: "only wearying".
       She takes time also to praise his first work to the high heavens. But this she didn't seem to like so much .....
       And, again, what we find interesting is that despite the fact that she finds the book to be... well, it sounds to us like she finds it to be absolutely second-rate, at best, she still speaks of "Mr. Eggers's glorious gifts as a writer" (even though they are apparently not apparent in the book -- at least not more than "intermittently"). And she writes about his "dazzling and highly original talents", despite not finding much proof of these in the pages of his novel. True, she acknowledges; "this book shows that Mr. Eggers can write about pretty much anything and make it glitter and somersault on the page", but since it is all to little end ... well, draw your own conclusions.
       Surely seasoned reviewing hands (as Ms.s Franklin and Kakutani are) should remember that many authors only have one decent book in them -- often that very first book. Flame-outs (and these books both sound like flame-outs, at least from these reviewers' perspectives (Kakutani wrote similarly about Zadie Smith's novel too, relentlessly comparing it to her first book)) are common. Maybe reviewers should also be a bit more careful about applying that "genius" label until a writer has had the chance to prove themselves over a period of time and a number of books.

       Eggers has managed to fan the flames of the cult of the personality nicely to achieve success too, something we admit we find rather annoying. (It's the words that count, just the words -- or at least we wish it was. Of course, having no personality ourselves (and only a very small cult) maybe we're just bitter .....)
       But it gets problematic when the first "book review" we came across of the new Eggers-novel -- at Metroactive, clearly labeled book review -- is one by someone who admits to having not read the book ! The justification ? "(E)nough of it has appeared elsewhere, and Eggers has given enough interviews, to permit wild speculation."
       That's apparently what we've come to.
       At least there are a few real reviews too -- the Kakutani's (sorry, no link), or this one from The Commercial Appeal (6 October).

(Posted by: complete review)

8 October 2002 - Tuesday

Franzen on How to Be Alone | A&LD done for, but ...

       Jonathan Franzen on How to Be Alone

       Jonathan Franzen's new book of non-fiction pieces, How to Be Alone, is now available -- as is our review. Included is a revised version of the famous Harper's essay (from 1996), as well as many pieces that will be familiar to readers of The New Yorker over the past year. Not included: his recent piece in The New Yorker (issue of 30 September) on William Gaddis, "Mr. Difficult" (see also our earlier comments). Also not included: much of anything about the whole Oprah-brouhaha -- the one thing we had hoped he would address.
       (Ridiculously, our piece, A Book, an Author, and a Talk Show Host: Some Notes on the Oprah-Franzen Debacle at the complete review Quarterly, apparently remains the definitive account and analysis of the affair and the aftermath. We still think it's a great subject for a book, since it says a lot about the state of literature in America. Our crQ piece continues to attract relatively large audiences, and we even put a note near the beginning, suggesting we'd be glad to put together a book about the whole affair and that interested publishers might contact us -- none have. Publishers we talked to in person also showed no interest -- many presumably Oprah-shy (no longer much of an issue, now that her Book Club has been retired), and more than one telling us that Franzen was writing about it for his new collection of essays. That collection now having appeared, it's oddly reassuring to find that publishers have gotten it as right as they always do -- barely at all.)
       We have also added a Jonathan Franzen author page -- we have his entire output under review, so we figured we might as well.
       Those interested in hearing Franzen read -- he's flogging both this book and the newly-issued paperback of The Corrections -- can consult his book tour schedule to see when he's in your neighborhood.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Arts & Letters Daily done for, but ...

       Shockingly, another venerable Internet institution, the Arts & Letters Daily weblog, has closed shop.
       An off-shoot of Lingua Franca, it was one of the first and most popular weblogs, briefly summarizing and linking to (usually) three stories on the Internet daily. The variety of topics was interesting, the links good.
       Fortunately, however, the editors have merely moved on, rather than calling it quits. A similar site, with a slightly different focus, has now opened under their auspices: Philosophy & Literature - arts, ideas, debate. They intend "to cover a wide range of argument and opinion".
       So there's hope yet. (Indeed, possibly Arts & Letters Daily will return in some form too, once the Lingua Franca bankruptcy is settled.)

(Posted by: complete review)

7 October 2002 - Monday

Max Barry's forthcoming ... book | Ann Marlowe update
Festivals: Cheltenham | Birmingham | National Book Festival
Praise (!) for The NYTBR

       Maxx axes the "x" and writes another ... book

       When he published his first book, Syrup (see our review), young Australian author Max Barry added an extra "x" to his first name. It was the cleverest thing about his literary endeavour, but now he's axed the "x" and is soon to publish his follow-up book simply as "Max Barry". On his site he explains:
He put an extra X in his name for Syrup because it seemed like a funny joke about marketing, failing to realize everyone would assume he was a pretentious asshole.
       We don't quite get the connection; we might have might have many derogatory things to say about Mr. Barry (at least as far as his writing ... talents go), but "pretentious" doesn't seem to obviously apply -- it never occurred to us.
       Now we're wondering whether he'll be further reductionist in the novels to follow (and we're afraid there are more novels that will follow): Ma Barry, M.Barry, mbarry .....
       Anyway: we were apparently the first to review Syrup when it appeared (or rather: before it appeared) -- and now we've jumped the gun again and already offer our review of Barry's forthcoming Jennifer Government, despite the fact that it's only appearing in the US at the end of January, 2003 (and in the UK even later).
       Sorry that we don't exactly whet your appetite, but we just call 'em as we see 'em.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Ann Marlowe update

       Ann Marlowe's How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z is now out in paperback in the UK. We're constantly fixing and fiddling with links, and adding new ones to our old reviews, but this one is one that we hadn't revised for a while. Now we have, changing (and adding) quite a few links -- for anyone who's interested.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Cheltenham Festival of Literature

       This year's Cheltenham Festival of Literature runs 11-20 October; see their official site for information.
       As they explain:
This year's Festival (11th - 20th October) welcomes a galaxy of writers, critics, historians, actors, psychologists, scientists and playwrights to address one of life's biggest questions.
       A galaxy of .... ? Oh dear.
       And the big question ? Yes, this year's festival-topic is "What does it mean to be human ?" Oh dear, oh dear.
       But still: they have some interesting people, including:
  • Historians: Eric Hobsbawm, Orlando Figes, and Antonia Fraser
  • Biographers: Michael Wood and Jenny Uglow
  • Novelists: Doris Lessing, Ian Rankin, Penelope Lively, Ben Okri, and Fay Weldon
  • Poets: Andrew Motion and James Fenton
  • Critics and opinion-formers: Terry Eagleton
       And many more. Yes, some are worrisome (among the "critics and opinion-formers" are Alain de Botton and Susie Orbach), but still: it should be of some interest. (And you can ask Orlando Figes about Rachel Polonsky's review of his book in the TLS.....)

(Posted by: complete review)

       Birmingham Book Festival

       The Birmingham Book Festival runs 10-25 October; see their official site for information.
       Among the authors appearing: Jeffrey Eugenides (whose Middlesex we recently reviewed) (11 October), Iain Banks (13 October), Steve Jones, Jenny Uglow, and more.

(Posted by: complete review)

       National Book Festival

       The National Book Festival takes place 12 October in Washington D.C.; see their official site for information.
       It is presented by "the library of congress and laura bush". (For those who have no idea who Laura Bush is: she is apparently married to the current American president. Despite that, she appears to have some bookish interest, having previously worked as a librarian (though apparently not, as far as we can tell, at the Library of Congress).)
       A lot of authors will be appearing. It's a pretty weak "Fiction & Imagination" group, but a bit better in "History & Biography", and "Mysteries & Thrillers".

(Posted by: complete review)

       Nice fat issue of The New York Times Book Review

       Readers are, no doubt, familiar with our frequent complaints about the dwindling size and coverage and ambit of The New York Times Book Review (and many other review fora) -- but we try to also give praise where praise is due. So: the 6 October issue is pretty close to the way we think the Book Review should look.
       Thirteen full-length non-fiction book reviews ! Five non-fiction books in brief reviews (plus one more collective review) ! Nine full-length fiction book reviews ! (And three of the fiction titles were originally written in a foreign language !) Plus: five brief crime book reviews ! Plus: a "Close Reader" essay instead of that annoying cartoon strip on the last page !
       O.k., we can still nit-pick, too: Why such a preponderance of non-fiction over fiction ? Why are all the foreign fiction titles French ? A review of a book by ... Dave Barry ? .....
       But our heart isn't in it. Sven Birkerts reviews the posthumous William Gaddis, Agape Agape ! Reviews of the new Milan Kundera and Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man ! A review of Julian Barnes' "Essays on France" ! (Really -- what is it about the Francophile focus here ?)
       So: let's see more of the same in the future !
       (One question: is the more extensive than usual coverage due to the Book Review getting lots of the Times' staff to work on the cheap (inside rates or something) ? Of the nineteen full-length reviews one is by a former executive editor and five are by staffers -- including reviews by the Times' Toronto and Washington correspondents, someone who "covers the law", and a guy who is "a style reporter for The Times". Notably absent ? Anyone associated with the Book Review itself -- apparently the guys covering styles -- or Toronto -- are better qualified.)

       (One additional note: get a load of the sensational sub-titles of some of the non-fiction books under review. They include, in part or in whole:
  • "The Power of Place"
  • "The Final Verdict"
  • "The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles"
  • "The One who Made the Difference"
  • "The Strange History and Uncertain Future"
  • "The Broken Promise"
  • "Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting"
  • "Seduced Travelers"
  • "Life and Love after Death"
       Desperate attention grabbing is apparently now almost standard. Interesting, too, that the publishers of all thirteen non-fiction titles saw the need for an explanatory sub-title .....)

(Posted by: complete review)

5 October 2002 - Saturday

The new Proust | Political publishing | We go Middlesex
Literary interest (lack of) | Salon death knell ?

       Proust translations -- old and new

       Yes, another Proust translation is on the way. The much (?) anticipated completely new translation -- with a different translator for each volume -- edited by Christopher Prendergast and published by Penguin is set to come out 14 October. (Get your copy from -- all six volumes, or buy each separately. Note that it is only expected in the US in late 2003 (from Penguin Putnam).)
       There's a fluff piece in this week's issue of The Economist (issue of 5 October) that can serve as a vague introduction to the endeavour.
       Better, however, to go to the first serious review: Philip Hensher's, in The Spectator (issue of 5 October). A good survey of the Proust-in-English scene right now, and a first peek at this new edition. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like an outright winner. Consider Hensher's opinion about one volume:
Alas, Sodome et Gomorrhe (...) is a total car-crash of a translation, with John Sturrock asleep at the wheel
Some of the translators can write, and some really cannot. Sturrock's frightful Sodome et Gomorrhe is maddeningly macaronic
       (Aside: "macaronic" ? You gotta love it. Though we admit we were not familiar with this term (shame on us). But it is a perfectly good and presumably appropriate word -- "Of or containing a mixture of vernacular words with Latin words or with vernacular words given Latinate endings", our dictionary tells us.)
       Ah, yes, literature in translation .....
       Meanwhile The Guardian offers a chance to win a new Proust edition. Except it isn't the Penguin edition, but rather the Vintage Classics "new English edition". What they mean is that:
Using the text of the novel published by the Biblioteque de la Pleiade in 1989, DJ Enright has further revised Terence Kilmartin's acclaimed revision of CK Scott Moncrieff's translation, incorporating new material.
       Proust to Scott Moncrieff to Kilmartin to Enright to ... you, dear reader. That's probably exactly what Proust had in mind.
       So, despite the fact that we would love to spend the next year and a half plowing through all these Proust versions (and all the French ones) and providing you with detailed coverage and reviews ... it ain't going to happen.
       But for more Proust information, have a look at Proust Regained by André Aciman in The New York Review of Books (issue of 18 July 2002).

(Posted by: complete review)

       Impolitic publishing

       An entertaining piece in this week's issue (5 October) of The Spectator is Rachel Johnson's on "the new rule of political publishing -- no sex, no cheques". The article is occasioned by the publication of John Major's paramour's book, Edwina Currie: Diaries 1987-1992, which apparently recounts episodes from the sad sack former PM's life that he had previously omitted from his own autobiographical accounts.
       Johnson nicely states the obvious:
It goes without saying, I think we all agree, that Mrs Currie sold her memoirs exclusively on the, erm, back of her four-year bonkathon with John Major and not on any unique political insight.
       The book seems to be doing quite well too -- and Mrs. Currie is apparently using it to try to further her career in fiction-writing (why not ? it's just fiction -- surely anyone can do it !):
The publishers' house magazine goes on to reveal that this scooptastic tome was bought last November as part of a two-book deal that also includes -- please, no -- a political novel.
       Mrs Currie is, no doubt, a woman of many talents: check out her website, or hire her as a speaker !
       The Johnson article also looks beyond Mrs.Currie's publishing adventures -- worthwhile.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex

       We've now posted our review of Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, one of the big fall books.
       It's been getting good reviews, for the most part (see our review for links and summaries). Slightly annoying, of course, are the "clever" review titles -- Helen of Boy, Gender Blender (used by both The Guardian and Newsweek), She's Come Undone, and My big fat Greek hermaphrodite novel. And there's probably worse to come. (Also curious: BookPage describes theirs as a Nonfiction review .....)
       Eugenides is now touring madly in promoting the book -- see his reading tour schedule to try to catch him. (See also our report from his reading at the 92nd St. Y earlier this week.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       Depressing item of the day

       From The Straits Times, 3 October:

Literature a dying subject in schools.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Salon death knell ?

       In trading on Friday, on volume of 88,500, SALNC ( fell three cents to close at .01. That, folks, is as low as you can go, leaving Salon as the puniest of penny stocks.
       Is it the end of the line for Salon ? It sure looks like it.
       As the company announced in a 21 August press release, they had been granted an extension by NASDAQ (to continue to list the company):
Salon Media Group, Inc. did not satisfy the bid price requirement on August 13, 2002 and failed to satisfy the $1,000,000 of publicly held shares requirement for the 30 consecutive trading days ended August 9, 2002, the temporary listing was continued subject to Salon meeting certain conditions.
       Among the requirements they have to fulfill: "on or before February 10, 2003, the company must demonstrate a closing bid price of $1.00" -- which they hope(d) to do (at least in part) by reverse-splitting the stock. Unfortunately, with only 14.2 million shares outstanding, they are way below the market capitalization requirements (at Friday's close, the whole company would be valued at less than 150,000 dollars (less, amusingly enough, than some executives were taking home as their annual salaries at Salon not too long ago)), and there's no way they can reverse-split themselves to make the company more valuable.
       Things have only gone downhill since mid-August, and it looks like this is a hole they can't dig themselves out of. A NASDAQ de-listing wouldn't kill them of course -- they could still continue as an over the counter stock company -- or, at these prices, just go private (though one has to wonder who will finance them then). But it sure looks like is doomed.
       It's a shame -- we've enjoyed their book coverage, which is pretty much all that counts for us (and a part of the site they didn't make "Premium", thank god). We hope their article archive survives.
       To follow Salon's stock price, check here. Note that the Salon site never seems to have much to say about how the company is doing -- you would figure an all-time low (indeed an 'as low as you can go') stock close would call for screaming headlines (we'd be screaming if it were our company), but no, it's like that subject is a taboo. Pretty much ditto for Scott Rosenberg's blog, which supposedly provides news of Salon .....

(Posted by: complete review)

4 October 2002 - Friday

More about the TLS review of Figes | More TLS | B.R.Myers interview

       More about the TLS review of Orlando Figes' Natasha's Dance

       As we mentioned yesterday, Jason Cowley suggested in The Guardian that Rachel Polonsky's review of Orlando Figes' new book was a fairly stinging and resounding dismissal thereof. The Times Literary Supplement with the offending piece (issue of 27 September) has now washed up on our shores, so we've been able to have a look
       The dismissal is indeed fairly ... complete. The tone is much that of the adult dismissing the child, not even bothering with too much sharpness or severity, but rather merely citing evidence (and hinting at more -- as the parenthetical "space does not permit me to describe this in all its detail" suggests).
       The main point of contention is that Polonsky finds that much of what Figes has written has been written before. "Pastiche-writing" she calls it, noting Figes' "various strategies for avoiding straightforward references" and giving a few choice examples that support her claim. She also notes "problems of accuracy as well as scholarly practice". The conclusion -- this is a work of shoddy scholarship, if one could call it scholarship at all -- isn't directly expressed, but certainly inescapable for the reader. (Polonsky even mentions mistaken streetnames and locations in warning: "You would waste a morning with this one in your backpack" (i.e. because you'd be misdirected if you believed the addresses etc. Figes' gives).)
       Figes and his supporters will no doubt respond in a week or two in the Letters section of the TLS; we're curious to hear the defences.

(Posted by: complete review)

       More from the Times Literary Supplement

       Rachel Polonsky's review (see above) may be the headliner (or attention grabber) in the 27 September issue but, as always, there's more on offer in the TLS.
       Surely of interest: Clive James on "the priapic Pushkin" (those words emblazoned on the cover -- perhaps the TLS's effort at increasing newsstand sales ?), and reviews of Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man ("an impressive development from White Teeth", plus a few reservations), Ben Okri's In Arcadia ("even in this dislocated work, there is evidence of Ben Okri's elusive talent"), and Michael Faber's new novel (marred by an "essential failure to register the right noises").
       Of particular interest to us: the one book reviewed that has already been covered at the complete review, A European Experience of the Mughal Orient: The I'Jaz-i Arsalani (Persian Letters, 1773-1779) by Antoine-Louis Henri Polier (edited by Muzaffar Alam and Seema Alavi). It is -- perhaps not too surprisingly -- one of the least popular reviews at the complete review. (It's been available since May 2002). Now the TLS devotes a page to the worthy volume, so perhaps it might attract a bit more attention (the book that is, not our review). William Dalrymple offers a nice introduction to the work -- though since his last book is described as a "book on transculturation in eighteenth-century India" his focus tends towards that specific idea. Still, it's nice to see the book getting some coverage.

(Posted by: complete review)

       B.R.Myers interview

       There is a new interview (dated 2 October) with B.R.Myers at The Atlantic Unbound. (Note that it was conducted via e-mail). He dances around some of the questions more than we like (see his response to whether he has read Franzen's The Corrections or Harper's essay), but it's a modestly informative piece.
       There's been considerable interest in the book -- he says it's selling well, and our review has certainly attracted a lot of users -- but there's been remarkably little review coverage. Very few newspapers or magazines have reviewed the book, as far as we can tell. Perhaps they think they said enough about it last year when the original essay came out. Still, it's odd .....

(Posted by: complete review)

3 October 2002 - Thursday

New Yorker Festival reports | TLS Figes review

       Reports from The New Yorker Festival

       Last weekend was The New Yorker festival. We didn't attend, but there are now a couple of on-line reports about some of the events.
       The New York Observer (issue of 7 October) offers a look at the reading by the Heartbreaking Geniuses, Zadie Smith and Dave Eggers.
       The report at indieWIRE takes a more film-focussed look at events.
       Most enjoyable, however, is Simon Houpt in the 30 September Globe & Mail, offering: 'Tastemakers' chew the fat above the masses. ("The culture is high and the air superior when The New Yorker throws a festival" .....) (We were made aware of this article at: Broom - A literary culture blog.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       TLS review of Orlando Figes' new book

       Another review uproar ? Jason Cowley writes in today's issue of The Guardian that Rachel Polonsky's review of Orlando Figes' new book, Natasha's Dance: a Cultural History of Russia, is ... quite a piece of work. The review is in the current Times Literary Supplement (which unfortunately only bobs across the Atlantic very slowly, and has not yet reached these shores (or at least our mailbox) -- so we can't tell you about the review itself, which we've not yet laid eyes on).
       As the Cowley-piece-intro describes it: "Even by the bitchy standards of the literary world, the TLS's review of the latest book by Orlando Figes was savage." We can't wait to see it.
       This should also make for a fun exchange of letters in the TLS in the coming weeks and months.
       Meanwhile, here are some other links of interest to get you up to speed:
  • Orlando Figes' Faculty page at Birkbeck College, University of London
  • Robert Service's review of the book in The Guardian (21 September)
  • An introduction/excerpt to/from the book, by Figes (The Guardian, 14 September)
  • To purchase Natasha's Dance: a Cultural History of Russia
       There seems to be some interest in the book -- when we checked earlier today the sales rank was an impressive 28, and even the sales rank was a decent 5,985.

(Posted by: complete review)

2 October 2002 - Wednesday

More Wittgenstein v. Popper | Brattleboro Literary Festival

       More Wittgenstein v. Popper

       You may have read David Edmonds and John Eidinow's popular account of the Ludwig Wittgenstein-Karl Popper confrontation, Wittgenstein's Poker (see also our review.) Now you have the opportunity to see a dramatized version (or at least hear a staged reading) -- the premiere reading of David Egan's play Wittgenstein vs. Popper: The Main Event.
       It's taking place Thursday 3 October, at Mass MOCA. Part of a programme by the estimable Shakespeare & Co. called "Two Viennese and Why they Hated Vienna" -- the other Viennese in question being Ingeborg Bachmann (always worthwhile). See the Shakespeare & Co. press release for more information, as well as this Boston Globe article (note: this link will soon die).
       Note that the "two Viennese" of the originally planned programme were Bachmann and Thomas Bernhard -- but apparently the Bernhard estate was not forthcoming with the rights. Fair enough -- we're all for the preservation of artistic integrity, bla bla bla -- but we note that this is the same estate that went against Bernhard's explicit testamentary demand that his plays not be produced in Austria after his death for the duration of the copyright. (See Gitta Honegger's Thomas Bernhard (and our review) for some -- though not enough ! -- about posthumous Bernhard issues.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       Brattleboro Literary Festival

       Over the weekend -- 4 to 6 October -- there's another New England event to enjoy, the Brattleboro Literary Festival. See their official site for more information.
       Lots of authors, if not exactly (for the most part) the biggest names. Headliners include Saul Bellow, and recently named MacArthur Fellow Karen Hesse.

(Posted by: complete review)

1 October 2002 - Tuesday

Eugenides and Franzen at the 92nd St. Y

       Eugenides and Franzen at the 92nd St. Y

       Last night Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen appeared at the 92nd St. Y, as part of the estimable, long-running reading series there.
       Eugenides' new novel, Middlesex, came out a few weeks ago, and Franzen's non-fiction collection, How to be Alone, is now also available. (Update (12/11/2002): Both titles are now under review at the complete review: see our pages on Middlesex and How to Be Alone) In addition, Franzen's much-discussed novel, The Corrections, has just come out in paperback. (That we have under review -- along with his two previous novels.) Both of the new titles are selling well (Middlesex was ranked 49th at yesterday, How to be Alone 465th).
       There hasn't been much coverage of the Franzen-essays yet -- a brief review in the Boston Phoenix (scroll down for review), and a longer one in the Star Tribune -- but it'll come soon. (Note that in the Star Tribune Dan Sullivan writes: "Also admirable are his decisions not to give his side of the Winfrey controversy"; we couldn't disagree more, and are disappointed to hear that.)
       Middlesex seems poised to be one of the bigger so-called "literary" successes of the fall. It's selling well and has garnered some very nice notices. (We'll provide you with summaries and links when we put up our review, but for now you can check out reviews at: The Los Angeles Times, The New York Observer, Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Times, and The Washington Post.)

       The 92nd St. Y generously provided us with entry to last night's event (well, one of us -- a place claimed, in this case, by the complete review's managing editor).

       A nice touch, before things began, was an insert in the program, with a copy of a manuscript-page by each author. Eugenides offered a page from Middlesex with the last corrections (page 186 in the hardcover edition, for those who care to compare). But it's the Franzen that is more interesting -- because less finished: a page from near the beginning of his recent piece in The New Yorker (issue of 30 September), "Mr. Difficult" (see also our earlier comments). Nothing too revealing, but the final version does differ considerably from this one, and so it makes for a neat peek at the writer at work. So that's a nice little souvenir from the reading.
       Each author had their own introducer -- and indeed the publisher/editor support (from PicadorUSA and FSG) on view was quite impressive.
       Eugenides was up first, offering a little warm-up material (recounting a backstage call from his wife reminding him that no one comes to readings for the readings, but rather to see the human side of the author etc.) before jumping into Middlesex -- page one, followed by longer sections of the young teen Calliope as some sexual truths begin to dawn on her ... uhhh, him.
       Nicely done, and a decent introduction to the book.
       Franzen posed as a more bumbling figure, hemming and hawing some -- but he did it all with self-assured charm, easily winning the audience over, establishing a rapport, and getting all the laughs. (He has a good schtick -- though it's notable that humor (often self-deprecating) and even a sort of clowning predominate, even where he takes the subjects seriously. Modern American life -- which means: the absurdities of modern life -- apparently can't be recounted with a straight face.)
       He read an older essay from How to be Alone (originally written in the mid-90s) on familiar themes -- scavenging, obsolescence, the place of fiction. It's a good piece, and Franzen presented it well, offering a few asides to the audience along the way. Then: a nice scene from The Corrections. He had planned to read another non-fiction piece, but decided time did not allow for it. (It is unclear why he felt there were time-constraints: the captive audience would gladly have endured more -- or do they turn out the lights at 22:00 ?)
       The Q & A session involved half a dozen or so tepid questions of no particular interest. Eugenides described the extent to which he had researched hermaphroditism (a fair amount of reading, but no personal contact). Franzen wasn't sure what William Gaddis would make of his novels. And Eugenides described how much in the grips of his novel he was: both he and Franzen worked on their respective big novels for what might be considered unusually long periods of time, and Eugenides apparently couldn't tell when it was time to let go; fortunately, his editor came and ripped it out of his hands at the right time.
       Sorry: no Oprah questions. (And nothing about NEA grants.)

       Good entertainment all around -- at least as much as can be expected from authors reading. Both Eugenides and Franzen handle the stage and the spotlight well, and things moved along at a good pace. (The Y also presents everything very professionally: from the ushers to the sound system to the numerous introducers all the trimmings were nicely handled.)
       Eugenides and Franzen will no doubt continue to make the rounds -- readings, signings -- in the months to come, and they're both good enough performers to make it worth the while of anyone who likes this sort of thing (authors reading).
       Still: it's an odd thing, authors reading aloud. Apparently it sells -- the Y looked filled to very near capacity, and crowds lingered to purchase books, sip wine, and presumably bask in the presence of the authors. I don't quite get all that, but ... well, more thoughts on that later.
       Meanwhile, other links of interest:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)

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